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Alien Megastructure? SETI has Solved the Mystery

The SETI Institute says it has not received any alien radio signals coming from a star whose light appear to be lowering in a strange way, but it’s too early to decide what kind of phenomenon is responsible the pattern.

The star, which is known as KIC 8462852 and situated around 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, has been the focus of otherworldly buzz for the past month due to irregular observations collected by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. Kepler’s data proposed that the star goes vividly dim on an irregular schedule, at intervals reaching from five to 80 days.

Astrophysicists said the best natural clarification for the effect seemed to be a swarm of comets that just occurred to be passing across the star’s disk when Kepler was looking. But one research team, led by Penn State astrophysicist Jason Wright, guessed that the effect could be caused by an alien megastructure that was being built around the star.

For decades, researchers have talked about the theoretical likelihood of building a “Dyson Sphere” around stars to capture their energy for industrial purposes, Wright said the KIC 8462852’s brightness pattern matches what might be anticipated if an advanced civilization were in the process of constructing a rotating Dyson Sphere around the star. Even though that situation was highly improbable, he and other astrophysicists called for further observations of the star in order to understand the phenomenon better.

The SETI Institute started gathering radio readings from the star on Oct. 15, using the Allen Telescope Array in Northern California. The 42-dish radio telescope array, sponsored in part by Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, is fine-tuned to detect transmission patterns that could be acknowledged as being of artificial origin.

The institute said its preliminary search turned up nothing of clear alien origin in the frequencies between 1 and 10 GHz, either as narrow-band or broad-band signals.

“The history of astronomy tells us that every time we thought we had discovered a phenomenon due to the actions of aliens, we were wrong,” Seth Shostak, senior astrophysicist at the SETI Institute, said in today’s statement.  “But although it’s quite probable that this star’s strange conduct is due to nature, not aliens, it’s only prudent to check such things out.”

Despite the non-detection, KIC 8462852 continues to be a high-value target for further studies.

“You can expect more people to look at it,” Shostak told GeekWire. “Everybody who has access to a big telescope, either a radio telescope or an optical telescope, is going to try to find out anything they can learn about this system.”

For example, by making observations at different wavelengths, astrophysicists can figure out whether the starlight is being choked by solid objects or shining through diffuse obstacles such as clouds of dust or streams of cosmic pebbles. Even if the phenomenon turns out not to be caused by alien megastructures, the results will be captivating.

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